Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Cruel, But Most Entertaining for the DM

The title of this post is a quote from Gary Gygax, talking about the famous module pictured on the right.  And while I have the author's words to describe this sort of adventure, let me quote them:

"Another nadir of Dungeon Mastering is the 'killer-dungeon' concept.  These campaigns are a travesty of the role-playing adventure, for there is no development and identification with carefully nurtured player personae.  In such campaigns, the sadistic referee takes unholy delight in slaughtering endless hoards of hapless player characters with unavoidable death traps and horrific monsters set to ambush participants as soon as they set foot outside the door of their safe house.  Only a few of these 'killer dungeons' survive to become infamous, however, as their participants usually tire of the idiocy after a few attempts at enjoyable gaming.  Some lucky ones manage to find another, more reasonable, campaign; but others, not realizing the perversion of the DM's campaign, give up adventure gaming and go back to whatever pursuits they followed in their leisure time before they tried D&D."
Gary Gygax, Dungeon Masters Guide, p. 92 

Well.  If this were any other individual - a politician, say, or the teacher of children . . . or a television evangelist caught fucking three virgin boys in an Alabama motel room - there'd be no hesitation for the reader to shout epithets about the person's hypocrisy, willingness to prostitute themselves, obvious collapse of moral virtue or value and so on.  But this is a game designer - so of course there are really good reasons for both these opinions to stand side by side without the reader's head exploding.  Gygax was just having fun when he perpetrated the sadistic perversion (his words) on the right; alternately, he was just paying lip service to the establishment when he wrote the stick-up-his-ass sermon on the left.

It depends on what sort of bullshit we want to defend.  For example, that Gygax was something other than a strutting, self-important demagogue who chanced into a good thing he didn't actually invent.  Or we could argue that he wasn't a vindictive bloated narcissist who realized after the release of the DMG that he answered to no one and "Fuck you, I'm writing this."

Sometimes I think a particular kind of success encourages the emergence of a particular kind of "do-it-my-way" braggart, whether or not that braggart deserves any of the notoriety he has.  Would Roddenberry have been anyone without D.C. Fontana and a host of other great writers?   Are we really sure the first Star Wars wasn't saved because there were those around him who had the power to make Lucas stop and listen?  It's clear what happens when those people don't exist.

So we come to the other argument: that Gygax didn't write either the left hand thing or the right hand thing - he just slapped his name on one or the other, explaining away either the sanctimonious prattling or the fucking piece of shit module.

Yes, yes, yes . . . yes, I know you like the module, but even you know you can't love both Gygaxes here.  If someone likes what's on the left, that's pretty much going to make the right-side shit, nyet?  After all, for those of you who love the Tomb of Horrors, the left side is pretty much shit, isn't it?  You have to try to see this thing from more than just your side.

Then there's the possibility that Gygax wrote neither.  In which case, why does anyone give a fuck about him?

Let's try to embrace a little reality.  Either he's a liar, he took credit for other people's work, he invented whatever shit he wanted to fall off his pen or out of his mouth from moment to moment or he was a complete DICK.  There are no other choices that fit the evidence.

Even if you really, really, really, really want there to be.


  1. I think it's been fairly documented that the original Star Wars was "saved" in no small part by Lucas's then-wife, who was a well-respected editor in Hollywood at the time. She provided input on all of his original movies, and certain touches that are fondly remembered by fans are only there because of her.

    Sadly, they divorced around the same time Return of the Jedi was released.

  2. I never met Gary. I don't know him. I've only read his posts on ENWorld and other places he occasioned before his death.

    He probably did write that piece in the DMG and may have been perfectly happy with his own hypocrisy.

    Do as I say, not as I do...


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